Are All Proteins Equal?

This is always the golden question when standing in the aisle and choosing what to put in your shopping basket: to steak or to lentil, to pea or to whey…

Many people seem to think that a protein is a protein is a protein, and a carb is a carb and fat is a fat. This simply isn’t the case. Those who revel in ignorance and are happy to remain so feel free to skip this article, but for those who are serious about effectively replenishing protein sources, this article is a priority. Ok, so, what does this look like? Let’s jump in at the grassroots level.

Proteins are complex. Proteins are science. Proteins are integral.

Our dear friend, Mr Protein, is one of the three macronutrients our body needs for survival, the other two being carbohydrates and fats. Macronutrients are simply the nutritional components of food that the body needs for energy and to maintain the body’s structure and system. Macronutrients are needed in the largest amounts by our bodies, but today, it’s all about Mr Protein.

Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are known as the building blocks of our bodies. There are essential amino acids and non-essential amino acids. Our own bodies can readily make non-essential amino acids, whereas essential amino acids must be obtained through diet. We can also score these amino acids – various methods help determine this protein quality. (PDCAAS, DIAAS: read the full article here https://www.agropur.com/us/news/pdcaas-to-diaas-a-new-way-to-look-at-protein-quality). Essential amino acids provide a more favourable rate of protein synthesis and recovery.

It is from these 9 essential amino acids we can categorize complete and incomplete proteins

In a nutshell, a complete protein contains all 9 essential amino acids, and an incomplete protein does not.

Straight off the bat, we can see that a protein is not a ‘protein is a protein is a protein’!

Now before you throw the baby out with the bathwater, incomplete proteins are not inferior to complete proteins: they simply need to be paired with another protein source to contain sufficient amounts of amino acids to get ‘muscle-building done’. Some complete proteins include dairy products (yay HPR), eggs, fish, meats, soy, quinoa and chia seeds. Foods that are also worth mentioning but not complete within themselves include legumes, nuts, seeds, grains and vegetables – consider pairing these fellows with complementary proteins.

Let’s look at some familiar daily sources:

  • Animal proteins: unlike most plant proteins, many animal products are considered complete proteins, essential to anabolic growth and protein synthesis.
  • Whey Protein: this is the most popular form of protein and is found in milk products. With the amino acid profile suited to muscle building, it is quickly absorbed and suited for a post-workout protein. (Thank goodness we have HPR for this.)
  • Egg Protein: this has an efficient bioavailability with sustained release of protein and stimulates muscle protein. Fun fact: an egg is considered the perfect complete protein.
  • Soy Protein: although not ranking very highly on the ‘quality’ list, soy is a complete protein. It stimulates muscle growth though it must be noted that the isoflavones may skew hormones over time.
  • Plant Protein: plant-based foods typically contain fibre, which promotes good gut bacteria, smoother digestion but are mostly incomplete protein sources and should be paired for maximum benefit.

We can clearly see there is a wide range of protein sources available, and we can mix and match our diets to get in all we need to repair and feed our muscles. Here is just a quick reminder of some of the benefits of consuming good quality protein sources:

– Protein is vital for muscle growth and repair.

– Protein is the most satisfying nutrient in terms of satiety.

– Protein acts as a buffer to maintain PH levels in our blood.

– They have a transportation function and act as carriers for other nutrients (this is why carbohydrates and proteins consumed together in a meal work together to nourish your body and prevent you from developing deficiencies over time).

– Protein helps with the production of insulin and anabolic hormones that our bodies need to be regulated and can be used as an anabolic hormone to stimulate protein synthesis.

– Protein assists the immune system by supporting our antibody powerhouses to fight viral and bacterial infections.

What I love about HPR is the fact that milk contains 3.3% protein with both whey and casein and provides abundant branch chain amino acids (BCAAs) and glutamine.

Bottom line: sufficient protein is good, but complete proteins are better. If you follow a training regime, up your intake of complete proteins to ensure muscle repair and growth is sparked. Empower friends and family members by educating them on macronutrients and the value of protein-dense foods. If everyone could understand a smidge of the above, we’d be healthier people overall.

Your resident sports nutritionist

Candice De Mendonca

Aka The Fitness Hybrid

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